Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Carry Me

"The Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, in all the way that you went until you came to this place." Deut 1:31
The mental picture that springs immediately to mind is of a strong father, with arms wrapped around a worn out child. The strength of the father makes the child appear small and protected. This is a safe place. This is where the child wants to be.

And what is surprising about this text is what surrounds this scripture in Deuteronomy is a huge failing on the part of the Israelites. So close to their goal, and yet another setback as they rebel. And yet, this beautiful description of how the Lord will carried them, just as a man carries his son.

Where are you today? Are you in the middle of a challenging situation? Are you feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders? Wondering where the next infusion of strength will come from to make it the next part of your journey? Read the words of Deuteronomy 1:31 again and remember the Lord will carry you

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Comfort One Another

I remember sitting in the pew besides my family feeling very small compared to the looming casket that dominated the front of the church. My strong father cried at his mother’s funeral that day. Another day years later with a similar setting, and yet I had the same feelings. That day I had to stand up and give the life sketch that could barely capture the story-book worthy life of my uncle Gary Ripley.

Pictures flash through my mind of other memorial services I have attended for others I have loved, pictures in my mind of other services for people who have touched my life. Each picture brings with it tears. No doubt your mind dredges up similar events, memories and feelings. Each time I flip through this picture album in my mind there is an aching sadness inside me. I mourn the places these very precious people where in my life, the roles they played in my life. The pain is there because they are no longer a part of my life. I have to remind myself that in the midst of the ache there is an echo. '

The echo says, "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. Therefore encourage each other with these words." 1Thessalonians 4.

While I mourn the loss of each of these people, and I recount to myself, and to those who also knew them, how incredible they were, there is hope that there will be a time that I will once again see their faces. There is a time of reunion coming. The separation is acutely felt. Their presence, no longer here with me, is real. But in the midst of the tears is the promise that there will be a time to gather together again and embrace those we miss.

It is never, ever easy to lose someone. Although there are piles of greeting cards out there that try to capture in words a brief moment of comfort, they never discount the pain. The text quoted above doesn’t dismiss the pain, or say it doesn’t exist, it just reaches out and offers hope. In the middle of the pain, there is a glimmer of hope and that is what we need to hold on to. There is hope that because of Christ’s sacrifice there is the hope that once again we will hold our loved one’s in our arms. There will be a reunion and a happily ever after on the other side of the pain.

Talk with God about the places in your life that you need His comfort and presence.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Travel Report

I have missed you all! Between camp meeting, ministerial convention and general conference I managed to be away long enough to wish I was home. And while my heart is glad to be back with my church family and in my home state, the travel was well worth it. My first stop was ministerial convention in Austin, Texas. For the very first time in history, all fulltime pastors in the North American Division gathered. This was the Called Pastoral Family Convention, and my family was privileged to attend. The goal was to gather to be inspired, valued, connected and equipped for greater faithful service in ministry. My call to ministry was reaffirmed as I brushed up on my core competencies of character, leadership, scholarship, evangelism, worship, people skills and management. Eric took advantage of the opportunity to connect with other pastoral husbands through meetings, shared adventures and a new t-shirt.

After a couple days of vacation we made it to General Conference in San Antonio, Texas. Where the tourism industry estimated 65,000 Adventists to spend 42 million dollars over the eleven days of the convention. Restaurants even brushed up on their vegetarian menu options and offered pre-paid meal tickets to be used during the Sabbath hours. We as Seventh-day Adventist took over both the Alamodome and the Gonzalez Convention Center across the highway. I managed to walk 4-6 miles a day going between meetings, exhibit halls and meals.

Surrounded by the crowds, seeing their country’s clothes, the different customs and languages, I was reminded that we are a world church. That this message is being preached to every language, tongue and people. And a characteristic that marked this gathering was prayer. There were groups of people gather in prayer around tables, a couple people in the middle of the exhibits laying hands on one another in prayer, and even on the walkways people pausing to pray for one another. This living organism that is the Seventh-day Adventist church breathes through prayer.

Coming home to my piece of this worldwide movement I am glad to know that there are others around the world sharing the same God, preaching the same message, moved by the same Holy Spirit. All in an effort that the good news may travel to every corner of the globe!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Note on Women's Ordination

As your pastor I am addressing the General Conference’s discussion and vote on women’s ordination.

On Wednesday, July 8, the general conference session voted on a motion that pertains to the credentialing of women in ministry in the Seventh-day Adventist church. The motion, “After your prayerful study on ordination from the Bible, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the reports of the study commissions, and; after your careful consideration of what is best for the church and the fulfillment of its mission, is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry? Yes or No.”

The conclusion came in at 1,381 no votes; 977, yes votes; 5 abstained.

This is not the conclusion I prayed and hoped for.

What this means is we continue as we are. Men and women will continue to be ordained as elders, ordained as deacons and deaconesses too. The current world church policy also provides room for men and women as pastors to lead out in baby dedications, celebrate baptisms, encourage at funerals, officiate communion, and perform marriages. “This vote does not determine whether or not women can serve as ministers.” I am still your pastor. Women around the North American division and world will continue in their pastoral roles. They will continue to preach, to pray, to baptize and to minister just as God called them to do.

For a more detailed description of the day’s events:

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Unknown God - Acts 17:23

“People see God every day, they just don’t recognize Him.” I wish I could take credit for that profound statement, but I can’t, I shamelessly borrowed it from Pearl Bailey. How many things could you put on your list if I asked you the question, “Where have you seen God today?” Twenty? Ten? Maybe only two? I kept this quote on my bedside table where I could see it each day. It is there to remind me to keep my eyes open to where God is moving in my life. It also reminds me of my job as a Christian is to let others know where the good things in their lives are coming from – God.

Such also was the goal of a preacher. In a land far, far away there was a he took a stroll. As he went along he found altars set up to various gods. Until He came to one inscribed to the Unknown God. Immediately Paul began to preach, and you can find his sermon in Acts 17 beginning in verse 23. He challenged the people to meet the God who blessed them, the God they knew was there but didn’t have a name for yet. May you each day be the challenge to those around you to see God’s hand in their lives.

Conversation starter with God: Talk with Him about where you need your eyes opened to God’s hand moving in your life. Talk with God about how He can use you today to help someone else know that God is the source
​of the good things in their life.

In the Middle of the Mess

This is a counting exercise so think back to The Count from Sesame Street and count how many sermons you have heard from the book of Judges. Do you have enough fingers for that? Now, how many devotional talks from the same book? What, you still have a few fingers and toes left over? When I was growing up this book was rarely high-lighted in the Sabbath School quarterly, but it was strongly featured for charades in the Ripley household. Guests were usually stumped by a vigorous showing of the story of Eglon. It was a lot of fun as a kid to act out as you were stabbed in the stomach, falling dramatically to the floor as you went through violent death rattles and then passed out. And yes, all of this came directly from the Bible. Now, does that convince you to read the Bible or censor your child's reading?

That was the beginning of my fascination with the book of Judges. Can you believe the first Robin Hood is found I the pages of the Bible? Featured prominently is Jephthah and his merry band of adventurers. The more I studied the book of Judges, the more questions I asked. Why would God include such horrible stories?

Case in point: A man was called to lead a band of men into battle. Feeling a bit hesitant to head into such a dangerous situation, he had a conversation with God. In this prudent conversation, he poured out his anxiety and decided to set a bargain before God. His bargain was that if God would give him victory in the battle, he would sacrifice as a burnt offering whatever came out to greet him when he returned from his victory. Feeling much better after this exchange, Jephthah got up from his knees, put on his polished and repaired armor, and headed off to do battle.

He fought gallantly and returned victorious, bursting with pride and good will. That is until he saw who was coming down the driveway to his house; the first thing to greet him was his one and only child—his daughter. Jephthah fell from dizzying heights of joy at his hard-won glory to the depths of despair at the thought of his child as a burnt offering. What is a man to do when he has made a deal with God? Does he renegotiate or does he follow through? And what lesson does a present-day reader take from this story? Are we to make deals like this when we find ourselves in a tough situation, or are we seeking to manipulate God when we make that kind of deal? Answer those questions for yourself and then, if you wonder what happens next in this story you’ll find it in the middle of the book of Judges, chapter 11:30-40.

The book of Judges is full of stories like this, and worse. There are stories of humans in terrible states, and messes of their own making, and yet God is there in the midst of it. He wants to connect with us. That is why I am so drawn to this book. God is always there. It doesn't matter how bad the mess is, God wades right into the middle of it and says, "I am God. I am here with you." That is a God who is worthy of my complete respect and worship.

Conversation starter with God: Talk with God about the places in your life that are less than ideal— where you think God might be less than inclined to be—then imagine Him in the middle of that very place.